The first clues came from the bones: swiveling wrists, three forward- pointing toes, the telltale wishbone. Then dinosaur hunters started finding fossils with traces of "dino fuzz"--simple filaments widely viewed as primitive feathers. When Caudipteryx, a velociraptor-like fossil with complex feathers, was unveiled in 1998, most paleontologists were convinced: Modern-day birds are in fact living dinosaurs in feathery camouflage.
A handful of experts remained skeptical. Caudipteryx, they argued, was a bird, not a dinosaur; the fuzz could be decomposed tissue. Last week in the journal Nature, dino-bird proponents presented a specimen they say should end the increasingly acrimonious debate. Spread-eagled in a slab of Chinese limestone, the duck-size animal is clearly a nonflying dinosaur. Just as obvious, the researchers say, are the remains of plumage: light fluff on the creature's head and tail, longer tufts on its shoulders and haunches, and on its forelimbs, hints of a herringbone branching pattern. "It's crystal clear," says American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Mark Norell. "These things really had feathers."
So is the argument over? Not a chance. Storrs Olson, curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History, concedes that this specimen is a dinosaur. But, he says, "there's no feather structure, and anyone who says there is is just making it up." Excavations have yet to yield a direct bird ancestor, rather than fuzzy cousins. Scientists on both sides are certain that the fossilized forebear of the chicken will turn up soon, proving their point of view. When it finally does, someone is going to have to eat an awful lot of crow.
Hayden, Thomas. "A fossil of feathers?" U.S. News & World Report 7 May 2001: 49. Academic OneFile. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.
Gale Document Number:A73959741
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